Commentary

Success and integrity are a choice

Updated: August 18, 2009, 2:49 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | Page 2

Success is a choice.

That's straight from the mouth of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who chose that catchphrase as the title of his best-selling motivational book.

Obviously, Pitino ignored his own words when the married father of five had a tryst with Karen Cunagin Sypher in a Louisville restaurant. And now that the romp has come to light, his employer, the University of Louisville, is in the news for all the slimiest reasons.

Pitino is technically a victim of a crime since the FBI is investigating Sypher's alleged attempt to extort $10 million from Pitino following their rendezvous.

But instead of being labeled a victim, Pitino should be called something else.

How about former Louisville coach Rick Pitino?

That's right, Pitino should resign. Spare his university further embarrassment. Spare his family continued humiliation. Save himself from being questioned by unsure parents who, when sizing up Pitino, will wonder whether they really want to entrust the care of their son to a man who, according to some reports, forked over $3,000 to Sypher for an abortion. Oops, I mean "health insurance."

Some people might believe the Pitino scandal is just the case of another married man getting some on the side from the wrong woman. But they would be missing the bigger point.

Pitino didn't do anything illegal, but let's not pretend college coaches haven't been fired for perfectly legal bad behavior that brought undue embarrassment to their respective universities. (Mike Price, Pokey Chatman, Larry Eustachy, please stand up.)

As a representative of a university and a well-paid basketball coach, Pitino shoulders a different responsibility. It doesn't matter that Pitino was truthful with Louisville officials about his get-down with Sypher. What matters is that Louisville's most high-profile employee, the face of the university, had a responsibility to conduct himself a certain way, and instead Pitino behaved badly.

In a restaurant? On a table? With an assistant coach listening nearby?

The word "professor" may not appear before Pitino's first name, but he is an educator. Young men come to play basketball for him at Louisville so they can be better players, but also so they can be better people. Pitino sells himself just as much as the university. And athletes often look at their head coach like a parent, not just someone who can teach help defense.

How can parents trust Pitino to guide their son correctly after reading he had sex with a woman he barely knew? How can they not question Pitino's morals, ethics, values and common sense? How can Pitino discipline his players and expect them to exhibit self-control when he's had so much trouble in that area?

This saga likely has devastated Pitino's family, and it has undermined his credibility as a leader. If I were recruiting against Pitino, one of the first things I'd say to a parent or a recruit is, "Are you sure you want to play for that guy?"

I realize that men who are more powerful than Pitino have gotten caught up chasing women, from the president of the United States to the governor of South Carolina to Kobe Bryant. But when part of your job is setting the example for others, you're rightly held to a higher standard.

The sad truth is, Louisville won't do a thing. Neither athletic director Tom Jurich nor university president Dr. James Ramsey has the guts to execute the morals clause in Pitino's contract, which states his job can be terminated for "acts of moral depravity" or for "disparaging media publicity of a material nature that damages the good name and reputation of employer or university, if such publicity is caused by employee's willful misconduct that could objectively be anticipated to bring employee into public disrepute or scandal."

Pitino's five Final Fours and national championship ring are all the currency he needs to get out of this mess. If he were a .500 coach with no titles or just another university employee, he'd be gone already.

In fact, Pitino arguably faced more criticism in March -- after Louisville's loss to Michigan State in the NCAA tournament regional finals -- than he is facing now. That's because sports fans and college administrators are worse enablers than any hanger-on, mooching family member or gold-digging girlfriend. In sports, decency takes a backseat to victories and banners.

And then we all sit around and wonder why sports figures just don't get it.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com

Jemele Hill | email

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